Fei-Fei Ross ’23 recently won the southern division of the Music Teachers National Association (M.T.N.A.) Student Composition Competition with her piece for solo piano, “Glass Steps.”As a result, she will advance to the national competition level.
Ross gained inspiration for “Glass Steps” when experimenting with some new chords at the piano. This was different from her usual writing method, as she says she tends to repeatedly use the same chords.
“I was trying to write a piece with chords people probably didn’t know, or hadn’t heard before. And I hit this one chord and I just thought, ‘That’s kind of interesting.’ And so I built the whole piece off of this series of chords that I thought most people probably hadn’t heard,” said Ross.
According to Ross, music has been a large part of Ross’s life since she was young, and she has always enjoyed listening to and analyzing a variety of genres.
“[Music] just has so many emotions. And I feel like I’m very sensitive to music. I hear music and I’m just instantly analyzing in my head—so I just love listening to music, all kinds. I just think of the chords—are these interesting? The melody—is this a nice melody? Would it sound good on a different instrument? That’s just what I find myself doing,” said Ross.
Ross’s father noticed her aptitude for composition early, watching her play little snippets on the piano. When she turned twelve years old, he decided to put Ross under the tutor of a professional composition teacher, who provided advice for Ross while she composed “Glass Steps.”
“I don’t really know how to play [“Glass Steps” because] my composition teacher has a strict rule that there’s no piano work allowed. You have to write it in your head, and then transfer it onto paper… I kinda thought that was crazy, but she said that it would help develop my inner ear,” said Ross.
In addition to Ross’s unique perception of music, she has perfect pitch and synesthesia, which is the ability to see colors in response to music. These both influence the way she composes and listens to songs.
“I think a lot about the colors of the piece when I’m writing. If I don’t like the color, then I don’t like the piece… Sometimes I think ‘I want to write a song that’s pale blue’ and I try to figure out how to do that,” said Ross.
Ross’s friends say that she’s constantly writing music and singing. One of her dormmates, Emily Boon ’23, admires Ross’s unique style.
“Sometimes we’ll just be in her room and she’ll have all these ideas for songs,” said Boon. “She has a certain style. I wouldn’t say it’s soft, but it’s not one of those really fast songs. I feel like Fei’s songs aren’t those typical pop songs, and it’s nice because it doesn’t really follow that complete mainstream style.”